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Account of the Anarchist Bloc at Chicago Mayday/Immigrant's Rights march, 2006

Being a part of the Anarchist Bloc on Mayday was an empowering experience for us and the marchers around us.
Account of the Anarchist Bloc at Chicago Mayday/Immigrant's Rights march, 2006

In the days and weeks leading up to Mayday '06, there had been discussions amongst Chicago anarchists about how to respond to the burgeoning immigrant's rights movement. The relevance of this issue and its connection to wider struggles is obvious to us. The general feeling was that we wanted to stand in solidarity with the marchers, but not be a distraction from them or alienate anyone with our militance. After all, there were going to be many undocumented people there who would not appreciate being put at risk of arrest or deportation. We also wanted to draw some connections between the conditions for workers and immigrants in the US, and things like NAFTA or the FTAA (I'm guessing that NAFTA's destructive effect on the Mexican economy is one of the reasons behind the increase in "illegal" immgrants in the US from 3 million in 1988 to 11 or 13 million now, and is driving down wages here as well). With this in mind, we still wanted to march as an anarchist-identified bloc, because Mayday belongs to us too. We decided that Black Bloc was unnecessary, and tried to get our friends to wear white as per the organizers' call-out, some of us creatively wearing white bandannas and masks, and many of us not being masked at all.

So, my two friends and I arrived at Haymarket around 9:30 AM to hang out with our buddies the Wobblies. After schmoozing for 45 minutes or so, we all had a short feeder march over to the main rally point at Union Park, while the creepy Teamster guys stayed at the monument. My friends and I crossed the park to Ashland and Washington where the anarchist bloc was assembling. This was a slightly more punk-rocky looking bunch, some of whom apparently didn't get the memo about not coming in Black Bloc gear. No matter, we were a diversely dressed spectrum of folks from clean and Bougie-looking to dirty-crusty. We hung out for a while, making flags, modifying some stolen commie-red flags, stenciling T-shirts, playing a-games and Bombs and Shields, banging on drums and passing out some of those cards form the Chicago Workers' Collaborative, with a number for people to call if they get harassed on the job for participating in the march. After a while there were something like 50 to 60 of us circle-A types. The march had been leaving the park for a while, and we decided to pack up and merge into it about half-way through. It was slow going, because the cops were corralling the march into the center two lanes of Randolph St. For out-of-towners: Randolph is a 4-lane street, but with concrete dividers between the two center lanes and the one-way lanes on the outside. Some of the marchers were getting impatient with the giant <a href="">funnel</a> the cops had set up to crowd everybody into the lanes. Some of the people ahead of us were going down a side street (Wasington Blvd) and turning the corner to head back to Randolph and re-join the march. We decided to follow, not exactly as a breakaway, but just to get out of the damn park and join the march already. As we were doing this, about five cops showed up and told us to go the main way. A few of us had slipped through already and were waving for us to follow, so we surged through and around them, no problem. In the confusion, another 50 or 100 marchers followed us down the side street and on the sidewalk. We were in high spirits, having flexed a muscle that felt real good for the first time in a while. So, we turned the corner and headed back to Randolf.

When we got there we saw that everybody was tightly crowded in the middle part of Randolph, moving very slowly and looking very uncomfortable. The only thing seperating them from the wide-open one-way lanes and diagonaly parking lanes was a thin ribbon of yellow police tape and the occasional wooden barricade. We pulled down the tape and encouraged people to cross the small median to the side lanes, occasionally encountering groups of 2 or 3 cops futilely telling us to stop. We had gone maybe a block east on Randolph when I looked back and saw thousands of people crossing over the tape and the medians behind us! People who had been marching relatively unenergetically for an half our or an hour enthusiastiacly joined us in pulling down tape and chanting, "Si Se Puede!" We opened up the eastbound lane of Randolf almost all the way to the highway overpass. There were a handfull of protest marshalls and cops who were annoyed with us, but we kept going with the main march and let them try to argue with a crowd of tens of thousands that they couldn't have a particular lane of pavement. I doubt they had much luck. Right past the overpass, we marched by the Haymarket statue. The entire block the monument is on was surrounded by metal barricades. A few of us wanted to try and challenge the barricades, but most of us still thought that the parade route would take us back that way at 4:30 (I found out later that that had been scrapped, by the organizers or the police, I'm not sure which). So we continued into and through downtown where we drummed and danced and joined in chants and generally had a good time. After a while, some people got us to play this game where we would hold up the whole march by stopping our banners, crouching for a count of 8 and then dash like mad up to the people in front of us. Most of the crowd enjoyed this, including one random guy who tried to get us to do it every 5 minutes or so. A few of us were getting annoyed of it, considering that there were people who were walking with the assistance of canes near us, so it was dangerous for them. Eventually we made it to Grant Park, where we passed by our friends at the Food Not Bombs table who were giving out coffee. We decided to have a meeting in a baseball field near where the rally was ending, to talk about what to do when we got back to Haymarket.

This was about 3PM. At this point I still thought that the march would be heading back in that direction, but I then was told that that had been changed. Most of us still wanted to go to Haymarket, but worried that if we tried to march over there in a breakaway the police would stop us. We talked about different ways to go over there, and eventually decided that it would be best to roll up our banners and flags, not play our drums, and walk on the sidewalks to Federal Plaza, which is about halfway between Grant Park and Haymarket. Then we'd continue to the now-seperate Labor rally by marching in the streets. At 3:30 we set out, and had an uneventful walk in the direction of Federal Plaza. The streets and sidewalks were still crowded with stragglers making their way to Grant Park as well as folks starting to catch the bus or train home. When we got to the Plaza, we unfurled our banners and flags, pulled our drumsticks back out, and stepped back into the streets.
There were still about 50 or 60 of us, but this time we weren't surrounded by hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters, so I felt we were a bit more vulnerable. Despite that, we still made it several blocks through downtown Chicago without seeing a single cop. When the occasional unmarked car did come by us flashing its lights we either went around or jumped quickly back to the sidewalks. When we were still a quarter to half mile or so away from Haymarket a few more cops on foot had met up with us and frightened us back onto the sidewalk. They followed us closely with their snarls and glares and muttering about what terrible people we were and debated how severely they'd like to beat us. When we finally made it to the monument, we saw that the labor unions had set up a stage, and what do you know, there's a rhythm band with djembes and other drums playing. So, we played our drums with them, and we danced and hung out with some of the IWW folk who are slowly arriving. The mainstream labor union people watched us with bemused stares. They probably didn't know what to make of all these punkish looking kids with torn pieces of black cloth or garbage bags crudely attached to sticks. Not that all of us were dressed as punks, but those that did stood out in the crowd.

About 10 or 15 minutes into this, one of us sneaks over the metal barricades that the cops had put around the monument and begins climbing the statue, with the intention of attaching a red-and-black flag to it. A bunch of the anarchists saw this happening and enthusiastically took apart the barricades and climbed the statue. This infuriated the 15 or 20 or so cops there, who assaulted the statue and forced everybody down. While the whole crowd of 200 or so Labor folk watched (and did little or nothing) the rest of the anarchists came over to help their friends. A brief scuffle ensued, where a few people from both sides got hit with sticks and poles and police bikes, but noone really got hurt. The cops tried to arrest three or four of us in the confusion. For some reason I'm not sure of, they let us all go. Maybe they realized they were being jerks (doubtful). Maybe one or some of the labor union folks convinced them to do it (unlikely but possible). My guess is, they just weren't feeling lucky that day, what with all sorts of Wobblies and teamsters and other union folk starting to show up to a rally. Anyway, the anarchos either hid in the growing crowd or continued to argue with the cops over barriers. When about 60 riot cops showed up with a paddywagon and one of the police surveillance trucks, things seemed like they were getting pretty sketchy. One of us said they'd overheard cops talking about how they would wait for the rally to end and the union folk go home, and then they'd "get" the anarchists. So, we were getting pretty nervous, and about worried whether the police would try and snatch the folks they'd previously let go. After a larger (500+?) crowd had assembled and the unions started their speeches (where they conveniently ignored the explictily anarchist history of haymarket as well as what had happened 20 minutes ago before their eyes), I snuck out down an alley, then phoned a comrade to tell him I'd gotten out safe. A few others snuck out, the rest I later heard were able to just walked out normally. Still, I was feeling anxious until I'd ridden my bike all the way back home.

So, I'd say overall that it was the best protest I've ever been to. We achieved all our goals for the day: Showing solidarity, not being alienating or imperialistic in our behavior, not bringing the heat to a large gathering of illegal immigrants, getting a decent sized group of anarchists to haymarket on Mayday, not getting arrested, having fun. I think we had just the right level of militancy appropriate to the event. A few dumb things happened, for example a few newspaper boxes got knocked down on the way to Haymarket, but it wasn't really a big deal. One note that I must add is that during the baseball outfield meeting, there were perhaps 10 mostly white anarchists who seemed to be doing most of the talking. Also, perhaps if we'd not marched in the streets at all on our way to Haymarket, the heat wouldn't have followed us there and we'd have been able to get away with a lot more at the monument. In any case, I'd say it was a near-complete success. Our inter-group solidarity and communication skills seem to be rapidly improving, and I credit a lot of that to A-Games. If that continues, anarchists in Chicago may be a force to be reckoned with once again!



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